Ulmer Nest

On October 23 2021, the Facebook page “Scientific Facts” shared a meme which purportedly describing the “Ulmer Nest” in the German city of Ulm; a Twitter user shared the same meme on November 14 2021:

At the top of the meme was a small, shed-like structure with solar panels (and snow.) White text on the black background of the bottom read:

In the German city of Ulm, waterproof and windproof sleep pods have been installed in the streets to provide emergency shelter to the homeless. The steel and wood cabins, called “Ulmer Nest,” can fit up to two people and protect against the wind, cold, and humidity while guaranteeing fresh air circulation. They also come with solar panels, [a] radio network for communication, and motion sensors that alter social workers about the occupancy of the pods.

As is often the case with memes of that structure, most versions did not appear alongside any sort of citation or reporting on Ulmer Nests, nor did they include context as to whether the shelters were recent developments. Reverse image searches returned dozens of identical iterations on Google, and a TinEye search (sorted by “Oldest”) indicated the meme was first crawled in February 2021.

A version of the meme was reposted to r/Damnthatsinteresting in June 2021, but removed for lacking a citation. But on February 14 2021, the image was shared to r/BeAmazed and r/Damnthatsinteresting, the latter of which was most popular:

Ulmer Nests from BeAmazed

A day later (February 15 2021), the image was posted twice to Imgur. On January 22 2021, Ulmer Nests were the subject of an Independent.co.uk article, “Futuristic sleeping pods for homeless people installed in German city,” which reported:

Windproof and waterproof sleep pods have been installed in the streets of a German city in order to house the homeless.

The wood and steel cabins, which can fit up to two people, protect against the cold, wind, and humidity. They also guarantee fresh air circulation.

The pods were introduced to the city of Ulm, 75 miles west of Munich, on 8 January [2021] in parks and at other places where homeless people sleep, a city spokesman said.

To ensure privacy, there are no cameras in the pods, but the opening of the doors triggers a motion sensor which alerts social workers who check the pod following its use to ensure that it can be cleaned, and also to provide assistance to anyone using the unique form of accommodation.

On January 25 2021, MyModernMet.com provided background on Ulm’s Ulmer Nests, indicating they were introduced in January 2020:

The futuristic-looking pods were introduced in Ulm on January 8, 2020 as part of a pilot project. If successful, the “nests” could be found across the whole of Germany. Each tiny cabin is made from wood and steel and can fit up to two people inside (or one person and a pet or luggage). They’re also waterproof, protect against the cold, wind, and humidity, and even have integrated solar panels to provide heating. They can be securely locked when inside, and a motion sensor sends an alert to social workers when the doors are open. This is so the nests can be professionally cleaned after each person leaves. The pods even have a radio network so that people can get in touch with the team overseeing the cabins if they need to.

That installation date tracked with three image files uploaded to Wikimedia Commons in early January 2020. Each of the three depicted Ulmer Nest shelters (without snow on the ground.)

UlmerNest.de provided more granular detail about the Ulmer Nest project, describing a total of two structures installed in Ulm. It began:

How much does an Ulmer Nest cost? How can I buy one?

As there are only two Nests existing right now, which are mostly hand-crafted prototypes for evaluating our concept, we are neither able to give you a proper quote at this point, nor can we sell readymade Nests. We are still optimizing the construction also in terms of cost, with the goal of pushing the total material cost below a sane number, as well as being able to serially produce the shelters at some point in the future.

[…]

Right now, we are still in a prototyping and evaluation phase. Therefore, the actual price that was given in various media outlets is way higher than it would be for a finished product, as it includes a lot of development and testing work, and countless hours of assembling the Nests by hand. In a possible serial product, the price will dramatically reduce from the numbers given in the media.

In a separate FAQ answer, the creators of the Ulmer Nest disputed what they described as a media characterization of the shelters as “art”:

Who’s behind the Ulmer Nest?

Contrary to occasional media reports, the Ulmer Nest is absolutely not meant to be an “art project”, but the result of a collaboration of six Ulm-based entrepreneurs with broad experience in design and development of products and solutions, always following a user-centric approach. This unique combination of knowledge allows us to cover all the aspects of the Nest, from material choices or electronics up to software development. And if there’s a need for additional competences, we are able to access a broad network of local experts for almost any task at hand.

Finally, the makers addressed the limitations of Ulmer Nests:

Are there any guarantees that the Ulmer Nest will help people to survive, no matter what the outside conditions are?

No, even in a Nest, dangerously low temperatures can happen. The Nest is primarily made to keep its user from humidity, rain or wind, and also uses the generated body heat to create a temperature level slightly above the outside level. It is an alternative to sleeping outside, but not comparable to sleeping in a real homeless shelter. It is a measure of last resort.

Consequently, it’s true that Ulmer Nest structures were installed in the German city of Ulm in January 2020. According to the official Ulmer Nest website, only two of the structures were erected as prototypes, with no indication additional structures would be placed in Ulm or elsewhere. Its developers, self-described as “six Ulm-based entrepreneurs,” explained that the concept was still being refined and that costs at scale hadn’t been finalized.

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Ulmer Nest